Newton: Philosophical Writings

Newton: Philosophical Writings

by Andrew Janiak (Editor)


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ISBN-13: 9781107042384
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Publication date: 08/31/2014
Series: Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy Series
Edition description: Revised
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Andrew Janiak is Creed C. Black Associate Professor of Philosophy at Duke University.

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Isaac Newton
Cambridge University Press
0521831229 - Isaac Newton - Philosophical Writings - Edited by Andrew Janiak

Correspondence with Robert Boyle [1679]

Cambridge, 28 February 1678/9

Honoured Sir,

I have so long deferred to send you my thoughts about the physical qualities we spoke of, that did I not esteem myself obliged by promise, I think I should be ashamed to send them at all. The truth is, my notions about things of this kind are so indigested, that I am not well satisfied myself in them; and what I am not satisfied in, I can scarce esteem fit to be communicated to others; especially in natural philosophy, where there is no end of fancying. But because I am indebted to you, and yesterday met with a friend, Mr. Maulyverer,1 who told me he was going to London, and intended to give you the trouble of a visit, I could not forbear to take the opportunity of conveying this to you by him.

1. It being only an explication of qualities, which you desire of me, I shall set down my apprehensions in the form of suppositions, as follows. And first, I suppose, that there is diffused through all places an aethereal substance, capable of contraction and dilatation [i.e. dilation], strongly elastic, and in a word much like air in all respects, but far more subtle.

2. I suppose this aether pervades all gross bodies, but yet so as to land rarer in their pores than in free spaces, and so much the rarer, as their pores are less. And this I suppose (with others) to be the cause, why light incident on those bodies is refracted towards the perpendicular; why two well polished metals cohere in a receiver exhausted of air; why mercury stands sometimes up to the top of a glass pipe, though much higher than 30 inches; and one of the main causes, why the parts of all bodies cohere; also the cause of filtration, and of the rising of water in small glass pipes above the surface of the stagnating water they are dipped into: for I suspect the other may stand rarer, not only in the insensible pores of bodies, but even in the very sensible cavities of those pipes. And the same principle may cause menstruums [i.e. solvents] to pervade with violence the pores of the bodies they dissolve, that surrounding [the] aether, as well as the atmosphere, pressing them together.

3. I suppose the rarer aether within bodies, and the denser without them, not to be terminated in a mathematical superficies, but to grow gradually into one another; the external aether beginning to grow rarer, and the internal to grow denser, at some little distance from the superficies of the body, and running through all intermediate degrees of density in the intermediate spaces. And this may be the cause why light, in Grimaldo's experiment, passing by the edge of a knife, or other opaque body, is turned aside and as it were refracted, and by that refraction makes several colours.2

Let ABCD be a dense body, whether opaque, or transparent, E F G H the outside of the uniform aether, which is within it, I K L M the inside of the uniform aether, which is without it; and conceive the aether, which is between E F G H and I K L M, to run through all intermediate degrees of density between that of the two uniform aethers on either side. This being supposed, the rays of the sun S B, S K, which pass by the edge of this body between B and K, ought in their passage through the unequally dense aether there, to receive a ply [bend] from the denser aether, which is on that side towards K, and that the more, by how much they pass nearer to the body, and thereby to be scattered through the space P Q R S T, as by experience they are found to be. Now the space between the limits E F G H and I K L M, I shall call the space of the aether's graduated rarity.

4. When two bodies moving towards one another come near together, I suppose the aether between them to grow rarer than before, and the spaces of its graduated rarity to extend further from the superficies of the bodies towards one another; and this, by reason, that the aether cannot move and play up and down so freely in the straight passage between the bodies, as it could before they came so near together.

Thus, if the space of the aether's graduated rarity reach from the body ABCDFE only to the distance GHLMRS, when no other body is near it, yet may it reach farther, as to IK, when another body NOPQ approaches: and as the other body approaches more and more, I suppose the aether between them will grow rarer and rarer.

These suppositions I have so described, as if I thought the spaces of graduated aether had precise limits, as is expressed at I K L M in the first figure, and GMRS in the second: for thus I thought I could better express myself. But really I do not think they have such precise limits, but rather decay insensibly, and in so decaying, extend to a much greater distance than can easily be believed, or need be supposed.

5. Now from the fourth supposition it follows that when two bodies approaching one another come so near together as to make the aether between them begin to rarefy, they will begin to have a reluctance from being brought nearer together, and an endeavour to recede from one another: which reluctance and endeavour will increase, as they come nearer together, because thereby they cause the interjacent aether to rarefy more and more. But at length, when they come so near together that the excess of pressure of the external aether which surrounds the bodies, above that of the rarefied aether, which is between them, is so great as to overcome the reluctance which the bodies have from being brought together, then will that excess of pressure drive them with violence together, and make them adhere strongly to one another, as was said in the second supposition. For instance, in the second figure, when the bodies ED and NP are so near together that the spaces of the aether's graduated rarity begin to reach to one another and meet in the line IK; the aether between them will have suffered much rarefaction, which rarefaction requires much force, that is, much pressing of the bodies together: and the endeavour, which the aether between them has to return to its former natural state of condensation, will cause the bodies to have an endeavour of receding from one another. But on the other hand, to counterpoise this endeavour, there will not yet be any excess of density of the aether which surrounds the bodies, above that of the aether which is between them at the line I K. But if the bodies come nearer together, so as to make the aether in the mid-way-line I K grow rarer than the surrounding aether, there will arise from the excess of density of the surrounding aether a compressure of the bodies towards one another: which when by the nearer approach of the bodies it becomes so great, as to overcome the aforesaid endeavour the bodies have to recede from one another, they will then go towards one another, and adhere together. And, on the contrary, if any power [should] force them asunder to that distance, where the endeavour to recede begins to overcome the endeavour to accede, they will again leap from one another. Now hence I conceive it is chiefly that a fly walks on water without wetting her feet, and consequently without touching the water; that two polished pieces of glass are not without pressure brought to contact, no, not though the one be plain, the other a little convex; that the particles of dust cannot by pressing be made to cohere, as they would do, if they did but fully touch; that the particles of tinging substances [a substance that tinges or colours]3 and salts dissolved in water do not of their own accord concrete and fall to the bottom, but diffuse themselves all over the liquor and expand still more, if you add more liquor to them. Also, that the particles of vapours, exhalations, and air, do stand at a distance from one another, and endeavour to recede as far from one another as the pressure of the incumbent atmosphere will let them: for I conceive the confused mass of vapours, air, and exhalations, which we call the atmosphere, to be nothing else but the particles of all sorts of bodies, of which the earth consists, separated from one another, and kept at a distance, by the said principle.

From these principles the actions of menstruums upon bodies may be thus explained. Suppose any tinging body, as cochineal, or logwood, be put into water;4 so soon as the water sinks into its pores and wets on all sides any particle, which adheres to the body only by the principle in the second supposition, it takes off, or at least much diminishes the efficacy of that principle to hold the particle to the body, because it makes the aether on all sides of the particle to be of a more uniform density than before. And then the particle being shaken off, by any little motion, floats in the water, and with many such others makes a tincture [hue or colour]; which tincture will be of some lively colour, if the particles be all of the same size and density; otherwise of a dirty one. For the colours of all natural bodies whatever seem to depend on nothing but the various sizes and densities of their particles; as I think you have seen described by me more at large in another paper. If the particles be very small (as are those of salts, vitriols [sulfates of metals], and gums) they are transparent; and as they are supposed bigger and bigger, they put on these colours in order, black, white, yellow, red; violet, blue, pale green, yellow, orange, red; purple, blue, green, yellow, orange, red, etc. as is discerned by the colours, which appear at the several thicknesses of very thin plates of transparent bodies. Whence, to know the causes of the changes of colours, which are often made by the mixtures of several liquors [liquids], it is to be considered how the particles of any tincture may have their size or density altered by the infusion of another liquor.

When any metal is put into common water, the water cannot enter into its pores, to act on it and dissolve it. Not that water consists of too gross parts for this purpose, but because it is unsociable to metal. For there is a certain secret principle in nature, by which liquors are sociable to some things, and unsociable to others. Thus water will not mix with oil, but readily with spirit of wine, or with salts. It sinks also into wood, which quicksilver will not; but quicksilver sinks into metals which, as I said, water will not. So aqua fortis [nitric acid] dissolves silver and not gold, aqua regis [a mixture of nitric and hydrochloric acid] gold and not silver, etc.6 But a liquor which is of itself unsociable to a body may, by the mixture of a convenient mediator, be made sociable. So molten lead, which alone will not mix with copper, or with regulus of Mars [a fusion of antinomy sulphide with iron], by the addition of tin is made to mix with either. And water, by the mediation of saline spirits, will mix with metal. Now when any metal is put in water impregnated with such spirits, as into aqua fortis, aqua regis, spirit of vitriol [sulphuric acid], or the like, the particles of the spirits as they, in floating in the water, strike on the metal will by their sociableness enter into its pores and gather round its outside particles and, by advantage of the continual tremor the particles of the metal are in, hitch themselves in by degrees between those particles and the body, and loosen them from it; and the water entering into the pores together with the saline spirits, the particles of the metal will be thereby still more loosed, so as, by that motion the solution puts them into, to be easily shaken off, and made to float in the water: the saline particles still encompassing the metallic ones as a coat or shell does a kernel, after the manner expressed in the annexed figure. In which figure I have made the particles round, though they may be cubical, or of any other shape.

If into a solution of metal thus made be poured a liquor abounding with particles, to which the former saline particles are more sociable than to the particles of the metal (suppose with particles of salt of tartar [potassium carbonate]) then so soon as they strike on one another in the liquor, the saline particles will adhere to those more firmly than to the metalline ones, and by degrees be wrought off from those to enclose these. Suppose A [is] a metalline particle, enclosed with saline ones of spirit of nitre [potassium nitrate], and E a particle of salt of tartar, contiguous to two of the particles of spirit of nitre b and c, and suppose the particle E is impelled by any motion towards d, so as to roll about the particle c, till it touch the particle d, the particle b adhering more firmly to E than to A, will be forced off from A.

And by the same means the particle E, as it rolls about A, will tear off the rest of the saline particles from A, one after another, till it has got them all, or almost all, about itself. And when the metallic particles are thus divested of the nitrous ones which, as a mediator between them and the water, held them floating in it, the alcalizate ones crowding for the room the metallic ones took up before, will press these towards one another, and make them come more easily together: so that by the motion they continually have in the water, they shall be made to strike on one another and then, by means of the principle in the second supposition, they will cohere and grow into clusters, and fall down by their weight to the bottom, which is called precipitation.

In the solution of metals, when a particle is loosing from the body, so soon as it gets to that distance from it where the principle of receding described in the fourth and fifth suppositions begins to overcome the principle of acceding described in the second supposition, the receding of the particle will be thereby accelerated, so that the particle shall as it were with violence leap from the body, and putting the liquor into a brisk agitation, beget and promote that heat we often find to be caused in solutions of metals. And if any particle happen to leap off thus from the body, before it be surrounded with water, or to leap off with that smartness, as to get loose from the water: the water, by the principle in the fourth and fifth suppositions, will be kept off from the particle and stand round about it, like a spherically hollow arch, not being able to come to a full contact with it any more. And several of these particles afterwards gathering into a cluster, so as by the same principle to stand at a distance from one another, without any water between them, will compose a bubble. Whence I suppose it is, that in brisk solutions there usually happens an ebullition [boiling].

This is one way of transmuting gross compact substances into aerial ones. Another way is by heat. For as fast as the motion of heat can shake off the particles of water from the surface of it, those particles by the said principle will float up and down in the air, at a distance both from one another, and from the particles of air, and make that substance we call vapour. Thus I suppose it is, when the particles of a body are very small (as I suppose those of water are) so that the action of heat alone may be sufficient to shake them asunder. But if the particles be much larger, they then require the greater force of dissolving menstruums to separate them, unless by any means the particles can be first broken into smaller ones. For the most fixed [non-volatile] bodies, even gold itself, some have said will become volatile only by breaking their parts smaller. Thus may the volatility and fixedness of bodies depend on the different sizes of their parts.

And on the same difference of size may depend the more or less permanency of aerial substances in their state of rarefaction. To understand this let us suppose A B C D to be a large piece of any metal, E F G H the limit of the interior uniform aether, and K a part of the metal at the superficies AB. If this part or particle K be so little that it reaches not to the limit E F, it is plain that the aether at its centre must be less rare than if the particle were greater, for were it greater, its centre would be further from the superficies A B, that is, in a place where the aether (by supposition) is rarer.

The less the particle K, therefore, the denser the aether at its centre, because its centre comes nearer to the edge A B, where the aether is denser than within the limit E F G H. And if the particle were divided from the body, and removed to a distance from it, where the aether is still denser, the aether within it must proportionally grow denser. If you consider this you may apprehend how by diminishing the particle, the rarity of the aether within it will be diminished, till between the density of the aether without, and the density of the aether within it, there be little difference, that is, till the cause be almost taken away, which should keep this and other such particles at a distance from one another. For that cause, explained in the fourth and fifth suppositions, was the excess of density of the external aether above that of the internal. This may be the reason then why the small particles of vapours easily come together and are reduced back into water unless the heat which keeps them in agitation be so great as to dissipate them as fast as they come together: but the grosser particles of exhalations raised by fermentation keep their aerial form more obstinately, because the aether within them is rarer.

Nor does the size only but the density of the particles also conduce to the permanency of aerial substances. For the excess of density of the aether without such particles above that of the aether within them is still greater. Which has made me sometimes think that the true permanent air may be of a metallic original: the particles of no substances being more dense than those of metals. This, I think, is also favoured by experience, for I remember I once read in the Philosophical Transactions7 how M. Huygens at Paris found that the air made by dissolving salt of tartar would in two or three days time condense and fall down again, but the air made by dissolving a metal continued without condensing or relenting in the least. If you consider then how by the continual fermentations made in the bowels of the earth there are aerial substances raised out of all kinds of bodies, all which together make the atmosphere, and that of all these the metallic are the most permanent, you will not perhaps think it absurd that the most permanent part of the atmosphere, which is the true air, should be constituted of these: especially since they are the heaviest of all other[s], and so must subside to the lower parts of the atmosphere and float upon the surface of the earth, and buoy up the lighter exhalation and vapours to float in greatest plenty above them. Thus I say it ought to be with the metallic exhalations raised in the bowels of the earth by the action of acid menstruums, and thus it is with the true permanent air. For this as in reason it ought to be esteemed the most ponderous [heavy] part of the atmosphere because the lowest: so it betrays its ponderosity by making vapours ascend readily in it, by sustaining mists and clouds of snow, and by buoying up gross and ponderous smoke. The air also is the most gross inactive part of the atmosphere affording living things no nourishment if deprived of the more tender exhalations and spirits that float in it: and what more inactive and remote from nourishment than metallic bodies?

I shall set down one conjecture more which came into my mind now as I was writing this letter. It is about the cause of gravity. For this end I will suppose aether to consist of parts differing from one another in subtlety by indefinite degrees: that in the pores of bodies there is less of the grosser aether, in proportion to the finer, than in open spaces, and consequently that in the great body of the earth there is much less of the grosser aether, in proportion to the finer, than in the regions of the air: and that yet the grosser aether in the air affects the upper regions of the earth, and the finer aether in the earth the lower regions of the air, in such a manner that from the top of the air to the surface of the earth, and again from the surface of the earth to the centre thereof, the aether is insensibly finer and finer. Imagine now any body suspended in the air, or lying on the earth, and the aether being by the hypothesis grosser in the pores, which are in the upper parts of the body, than in those which are in its lower parts, and that grosser aether being less apt to be lodged in those pores, than the finer aether below, it will endeavour to get out and give way to the finer aether below, which cannot be without the bodies descending to make room above for it to go out into.

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Table of Contents

Introduction; Chronology; Further reading; Note on texts and translations; 1. 'New theory about light and colors' [1672]; 2. Correspondence with Robert Boyle [1679]; 3. De Gravitatione [date unknown]; 4. The Principia [1687, first edition]; 5. 'An account of the system of the world' [c.1687]; 6. Correspondence with Richard Bentley [1691-3]; 7. Correspondence with Leibniz [1693 and 1711-12]; 8. Correspondence with Roger Cotes [1713]; 9. An Account of the Book Entitled Commercium Epistolicum [1715]; 10. Queries to the Opticks [1721].

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